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The SoA works at UK, EU and international levels to protect and promote a strong copyright regime.

Copyright is founded on the principle that authors own the right to their intellectual creations and can determine whether, and under what conditions, their works may be used by others. Authors also have the moral right to be identified as the author whenever their work is used and to object to derogatory treatment of their work. Copyright law enables authors to monetise their work, underpinning the publishing and creative industries as a whole. 

It is vital that the UK’s gold-standard copyright framework is maintained now that we have departed the EU. The SoA urges the UK to follow future EU copyright law and the EU’s Digital Single Market Strategy, which represents a significant initiative for UK rightsholders and innovators. Under no circumstances should copyright be used as a bargaining chip during future trade negotiations.

The principle is simple, and unaltered by technology, science, or magic: if we want to enjoy the work that someone does, we should pay for it.

Philip Pullman – writing in Index on Censorship

EU Copyright Directive

The SoA supports the EU Copyright Directive, which aims to modernise copyright law for the digital age. Amongst other measures it seeks to address the “value gap”, the gulf between the revenues earned by internet giants that host copyright works and the money received by authors and performers who create them. Platforms which host copyright works (such as YouTube) will be forced to obtain a licence from the relevant rightsholders.

The Copyright Directive also contains much-needed provisions to strengthen the rights of authors when negotiating with publishers. You can find out more about these provisions by visiting our Where We Stand page on fair contract terms. 

Copyright exhaustion

UK Publishing generates £6.9 billion for the UK economy, with higher exports than any other country. The UK’s copyright exhaustion regime, part of its gold standard copyright and intellectual property regime, is key to its success.

The right to take legal action against infringement is constrained by a system known as exhaustion of IP rights. Once a good has been placed on the market in a specific territory by, or with the consent of, the rights holder, the IP rights protecting this good are considered to be “exhausted”. This means that the right to take legal action against infringement has been lost. As a result, there is a loss of the right to control distribution and resale of physical goods. A basic example is if a person buys a book, then the copyright is considered exhausted in the market in which it was purchased. This means that the author of that book (the rights holder) cannot stop the person from then selling the book to another person within the region that the book was put on the market.

When the UK was in the EU, it was part of the EU’s regional exhaustion regime which treats the EU as a single market. That market has been retained following Brexit, so distributors and other traders are able to move goods around the EU without the rights holder’s permission. However, it remains unlawful to import goods that originated outside the EU.

This copyright exhaustion regime protects the UK domestic market and generates global exports by preventing the unauthorised parallel import of international copies of books to the UK. Last year, the government consulted through the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) about a move to an ‘international exhaustion regime’. The enduring, harmful effects of such a move would make this a severe mistake. It would flood the UK market with international copies of books tailored to international audiences and would undermine UK-created content and exports. The projected losses would be £2.2 billion to the publishing industry alone. In the long term, this could mean the relocating of our publishing industry beyond the UK.

We are deeply concerned about reports that the government is still considering an international regime, a decision which would be completely at odds with its plan to grow the creative industries by a further £50 billion.

The Society of Authors were co-signatories to a letter, on 7 July, by the Publishers Association to the Secretaries of State, urging them not to consider this change.


Book piracy is harmful to authors, publishers, booksellers and readers alike. In the digital age, electronic files can be created and spread widely within short time periods. Sharing illegal copies for free online means publishers lose out on sales and authors lose out on royalties. It also leads to a decline in the perceived value of a book. We oppose this form of online piracy in the strongest possible terms.

Our Guide to Online Book Piracy explains more. 

Physical book piracy is not widespread in the UK. However, copyright infringement can occur when books produced cheaply and intended for other markets such as India leak back onto the UK market and are sold against full priced books. Authors receive no or very reduced royalties for such sales and they may cannibalise full priced sales.

Collective Licensing

We need to build on the UK’s excellent collective licensing initiatives to ensure that information can be shared easily and at the same time rights-holders are rewarded when their material is used. Copyright exceptions for education strike a fine balance between access for teaching and learning and reward for those creating educational materials. The remuneration that authors and publishers receive from licensed educational use is essential in supporting the development of new works for the education sector. A study carried out in the UK in 2011 reported that for UK educational authors a 20% reduction in secondary licensing income would result in a 29% decline in output (which would mean 2,870 fewer new works being created annually). The current situation in Canada, where educational publishing is in danger of becoming unsustainable, demonstrates what can happen when the balance between permitted activities and remuneration is lost

Digitisation of Museums and Archives

The SoA supports endeavours to provide wider access to museum and library collections but urges that this should be done with full respect to copyright and by engaging authors under the PARTNERS protocol. In particular we generally discourage use of Creative Commons licences. We know that CC licences set out clearly understandable rights to non-experts, and are popular within the cultural and educational sectors and funders, but they are not appropriate in cases where creators are professionals who receive licensing revenues (items such as soldiers’ letters may be different). Such licences cannot be revoked, apply universally rather than to the specific archive, and prevent legitimate collective licencing revenues.

Copyright education

Knowledge of copyright, its value and how to exploit and protect it is vital for every citizen – particularly in a digital age when all are creators. We believe that the Government must do all it can to spread knowledge and understanding of copyright.

The National Curriculum should instill in pupils an understanding of the artistic and commercial value of intellectual property rights. School pupils need to be educated on the dangers of piracy in an era when copying is so easy. We are therefore concerned that the National Curriculum for 2014 removed all reference to intellectual property rights. We also support Get it Right from a Genuine Site, which aims to ‘inspire people in the UK to support the things they love by sourcing them from genuine services.’

What are we doing?

We work at UK, EU and international levels to protect and promote a strong copyright regime. We believe that current copyright law is sufficiently flexible and any proposed changes must be fully considered as to the impact they may have on creators.

The SoA lobbies the EU, UK Government and the Intellectual Property Office as well as other interested bodies to ensure that authors’ views are heard and taken into account. We sit on representative bodies including the British Copyright Council and the International Authors Forum.


A selection of written evidence we have submitted to Government and industry in relation to copyright.


    Creators’ work is the foundation of the largest sector within the UK economy. Yet their needs are repeatedly ignored when policy, economic and support decisions are being made. 

    We are a member of the Creator’s Rights Alliance (CRA) #PayTheCreator campaign, which brings together the campaigning work of member organisations to collectively call for creators of all types to be paid properly for the work they do, and the rights they grant, and to be given the same considerations enjoyed by other workers in the areas of pay, business support and policy making. 

    Pay The Creator campaign logo

    Publishers vs Internet Archive

    We are supporting the ongoing lawsuit in the US against the unauthorised scanning and distribution of books through Internet Archive’s Open Library platform and have joined with other writers’ organisations to submit an amicus brief to the court. The outcome of the case could have huge implications for US copyright law.

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